Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory

Hardcover | December 27, 2016

byEnzo Traverso

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The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War but also the rise of a melancholic vision of history as a series of losses. For the political left, the cause lost was communism, and this trauma determined how leftists wrote the next chapter in their political struggle and how they have thought about their past since. Throughout the twentieth century, argues Left-Wing Melancholy, from classical Marxism to psychoanalysis to the advent of critical theory, a culture of defeat and its emotional overlay of melancholy have characterized the leftist understanding of the political in history and in theoretical critique.

Drawing on a vast and diverse archive in theory, testimony, and image and on such thinkers as Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, and others, the intellectual historian Enzo Traverso explores the varying nature of left melancholy as it has manifested in a feeling of guilt for not sufficiently challenging authority, in a fear of surrendering in disarray and resignation, in mourning the human costs of the past, and in a sense of failure for not realizing utopian aspirations. Yet hidden within this melancholic tradition are the resources for a renewed challenge to prevailing regimes of historicity, a passion that has the power to reignite the dialectic of revolutionary thought.

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The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War but also the rise of a melancholic vision of history as a series of losses. For the political left, the cause lost was communism, and this trauma determined how leftists wrote the next chapter in their political struggle and how they have thought about their past since. Throug...

Enzo Traverso is Susan and Barton Winokur Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University. His books include The End of Jewish Modernity (2016); Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945 (2015); The Origins of Nazi Violence (2003); and Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism After Auschwitz (1999).

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:312 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:December 27, 2016Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231179421

ISBN - 13:9780231179423

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsPrefaceAcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Haunting Pasts Without Utopias1. The Culture of Defeat2. Marxism and Memory3. Melancholy Images4. Bohemia: Between Melancholy and Revolution5. Marxism and the West6. Adorno and Benjamin: Letters at Midnight in the Century7. Synchronic Times: Walter Benjamin and Daniel BensaïdNotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

In this wide-ranging, conceptually rich, nuanced and thoughtful meditation, Enzo Traverso takes stock of the current historical moment as marking a fundamental historical and cultural crisis for the Left. The overarching trajectory of struggles oriented toward an emancipatory future that characterized and motivated movements in the past two centuries has been fundamentally broken, resulting in a profound melancholia. Taking inspiration from heterodox critical responses to the darkness enveloping Europe in 1940, Traverso seeks to uncover trace elements of a new utopian imaginary, as a leap without guarantees, a melancholy wager.